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French with tiers

Auto Examen B, Student's Book Pounds 7.95, Teacher's Resource Book, Pounds 21.95, Revision Book Pounds 2.50, Cassette Pack Pounds 59.95 + VAT Resources and Assessment Pack Pounds 49.50, Collins

Vital 2, Student's Book Pounds 6.50, Teacher's Resource Book Pounds 9. 95, Workbook Pounds 2.5O, Cassette Pack Pounds 49.95 + VAT, Resources and Assessment Pack Pounds 49.50, Collins

Nuala Leyden on final-stage GCSE and Standard Grade textbooks. Auto Examen B and Vital 2 are final stage books preparing pupils for Standard Grade and the new GCSE exams. They are companion books: Auto Examen B is for more able pupils preparing for the higher tier examination at GCSE (grades A* to C), while Vital is aimed at the pupil working for the foundation tier (grades C to G).

Both courses have a student's workbook, containing exam revision materials which can be used in class or at home. At Pounds 2.50 these workbooks are likely to appeal more than the sheaves of photocopied material usually issued by teachers to supplement course books.

Test practice is also given in the Resources and Assessment Pack, an essential part of each course, not only for its teaching and testing materials, but also because it has, rather unusually, the tape script for the materials in the pupil's book.

Another feature common to both courses is the regular emphasis on exam practice and technique. In Auto Examen B there is a four-page spread after every chapter with each page focusing on a different exam skill. Exam-type activities and exam tips (conseils de l'examinateur) are given. These are written in French only and so must become a comprehension exercise before they are useful to the pupil.

Vital 2 has a one-page exam section from unit 4 onwards together with some pages of exam activities at the back of the book. The regular emphasis on exams and how to do well in them is an attractive feature of the courses, making them suitable for GCSE courses with optional coursework as well as the traditional 100 per cent exam course.

These structural similarities aside, the course books are very different in their approach. The teacher's book of Auto Examen B sets out the six stages of language learning, where pupils progress from listening to language to eventually using it for their own purposes (stage 5), with an opportunity to reflect on their learning (stage 6). Each chapter in the student's book follows this pattern, with opportunities for reinforcement or extension work offered by copymasters. The student's book is written in French, with the exception of the grammar pages at the back.

Many activities are intentionally open-ended, designed for the more able, but some tasks are rather imprecisely expressed, leaving too much to the pupil's initiative. Some activities on the extension copymasters, particularly the role-play sections, need to be used with caution, requiring not only a good level of French, but also a real willingness to act out a part, and even argue a point.

These language skills are important, but I am not convinced that the materials supplied would work successfully in a Year 11 class - they may be useful as part of the transition to A-level. This is my reservation about Auto Examen B: there is little that is pitched at the C-grade pupil who struggles to write the past, present and future tense accurately. These grammar points are revised, but with chapters dealing with the passive, the conditional perfect and recognition of the past historic, the course is aimed at high-flyers.

Vital 2 pitches the level of French in the middle of the range of grades awarded at foundation tier and offers extension work to enable pupils to work at a grade C. It is a slim book, effectively using colour to highlight essential phrases and the skeletons of dialogues. The instructions throughout are given in clear, simple French. This limits the variety of tasks to complete, but increases motivation when pupils are able to understand without constant reference to the teacher.

The teacher's book lists in full the grade descriptions issued by the School Curriculum and Assessment Authorty for a grade F and a grade C and the chapters have these descriptions as a focus. An ability to deal with the unpredictable must be demonstrated for a grade C and the pupils certainly have these opportunities in their listening and written work, but only after they have coped with easier and predictable French. This approach limits the numbers of pupils who give up on the first task. Similarly, the more challenging tasks required for a higher exam grade are dealt with only at the end of the revision booklet. The student's book at 93 pages appears a little short, but this is reflected in the price, and it should be remembered that the copy masters and revision booklet are additional essential components of the package.

These materials are most likely to be adopted by those who already have Year 10 pupils using the companion books. They are attractive resources, written after publication of the specimen exam papers for the new exam by all the GCSE exam boards. With some time to go before the first new GCSE exam (long course) is examined, we may be inclined to wait a little longer before choosing a course book. However, Auto Examen B and Vital 2 will certainly be on my shortlist.

Nuala Leyden is head of modern languages at Carlton le Willows School, Nottingham

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